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Spiritual guidance in a confusing world

Four counseling books

You’re Not Enough (And That’s Okay) by Allie Beth Stuckey: Sometimes worldly lies can sneak into churches and books labeled Christian. Stuckey takes on five common lies women hear, including “You are enough,” “You determine your truth,” and “You’re perfect the way you are.” Stuckey explains where to look for these lies and the Biblical truth that corrects them. But she also explains the grain of truth in each lie—why they sometimes seem to resonate but leave women feeling empty. Her willingness to address the heart and keep God central makes her corrections very useful. At certain points, the author goes on tangents not directly related to the chapter topic, but the content is all good. 

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith: Some people steamroll their emotions with truth, while others let their emotions run wild. Groves and Smith write that both approaches miss the point. God made emotions intricately connected to body and soul, and people should engage their emotions as a way to grow. This means identifying the emotion, examining its cause and whether it is a valid response, and then acting accordingly. The authors give excellent illustrations from their counseling experiences, and the clear writing and practical points make this book a pleasure to read. They speak about emotions precisely. For example, our culture values feeling good, but sometimes feeling grieved or angry is a godly response and will come more deeply with spiritual maturity.

Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles by David Powlison: With characteristically clear and gracious writing, Biblical counselor David Powlison delivers his final book, published posthumously. He explains what spiritual warfare looks like in the Bible, contrasting that with much of what we give that label today. One of his main points: Jesus cast out demons in the Bible as a subset of healing, but the Apostles modeled and taught that people should repent of sin and trust Christ, no matter what sins are in their past. Counselors will find Powlison’s section on spiritual warfare in counseling particularly helpful, but this book can also serve as a God-focused primer on how Christians should fight their spiritual enemies. 

God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White: Sex pervades the culture but is rarely understood rightly, even in the church. Pastor David White starts with the basics of God’s design, then applies it to numerous areas of life, including marriage, singleness, and sexual sins. Throughout the book, he continually returns to the picture of Christ and the Church: Sex is a sweet gift, but ultimately it pictures the even better reality of God’s intimate and loving relationship with His people. White addresses topics like pornography and what should and shouldn’t be allowed within marriage. He also devotes a chapter to how parents can shepherd their children in a sex-saturated world. This book could be an excellent discipleship tool or resource for a Christian trying to understand what God says about sex. 

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Are you a racist?

Critical thinking about deceptive polling

White Too Long by Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster, 2020) was No. 3 among Amazon’s “history of Christianity” books on Sept. 6. That’s both good and bad news: Jones provides useful information on white supremacy but builds a sinkhole too far by constructing a 15-question test and claiming the answers show white evangelicals are racists.

Try question No. 2 yourself: “What should be done with Confederate monuments that are currently standing on public property such as statehouses, county courthouses, public universities or city parks?” One in 5 said “left in place just as they are.” One in 4 said “removed but allowed to be reinstalled in a museum or on private property.” Almost half said “left in place but have a plaque added that explains their historical context.” Only 9 percent wanted to destroy the statues. 

What do you think?

I wrote to Jones to ask how he scored the answers. He courteously responded, “the ‘removed and destroyed’ response option is scored as the less racist response.” Fascinating: The Taliban blew up statues of Buddha, and to be fully anti-racist Americans should also be destructive. Famed artist Elisabet Ney lived in Austin and sculpted slave owners and slavery defenders including Stephen F. Austin, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, and Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan: Should her work be destroyed?

My own preference: Move statues to a museum. In a book setting out to show the omnipresence of racism, it’s manipulative to include as evidence a question to which 91 percent of Americans don’t give the author’s preferred Talibanesque answer. Other questionable analysis sets up “a stunning contradiction,” as Jones puts it: “White evangelical Protestants report the warmest attitudes toward African Americans while simultaneously registering the highest score on the Racism Index.” In other words, these whites personally like blacks but support systemic racism.

It’s not a contradiction but an ideological difference. Most evangelicals are conservatives who criticize the systemic racism that keeps many black kids trapped in terrible public schools, even though educational choice programs in several large cities have shown excellent results. Many also criticize the systemic racism that for a half century has encouraged single parenting by offering welfare to single moms and imprisoning dads for minor drug offenses. (One out of 5 black kids grew up in a single-­parent home in 1960: Now it’s 2 out of 3.) 

Liberals, though, rarely admit that their liberal programs have contributed to systemic racism. They rightly lay out the brutality of slavery and the semi-slavery that continued even after the Civil War, but often ignore the analysis of black economists like Thomas Sowell and black journalists like Jason Riley, whose book title offers a good request to liberals: Please Stop Helping Us.

Some common right-left ground on prison reform exists, and the COVID-19 shake-up may open up common ground on the need for radical changes in public schools. But why turn conservative/ liberal differences of opinion into a racist/nonracist divide? 

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Against the odds

Four books about resisting injustice

The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown by Julia Flynn Siler: Prostitution was legal and rampant in San Francisco in the 19th century. Criminals bought Chinese girls from their impoverished parents, smuggled them into the country, and turned them into prostitutes and house slaves. Corrupt police and politicians allowed the practice to flourish. This book tells the stories of Christian missionaries like Dolly Cameron who devoted their lives to abolishing this form of slavery: They conducted daring rescues of women and girls and provided shelter to thousands who came under their care. Siler’s meticulous research highlights the anti-Chinese racism of the day and the extraordinary work of the abolitionists, both white and Chinese, who because of their faith fought this form of slavery.

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden: Holden tells the amazing true story of three young women—Priska, Rachel, and Anka—who were in the early weeks of pregnancy when they entered Auschwitz. She recounts how they lived before the Nazis rounded them up, how they met their husbands, and how they ended up in Auschwitz. Holden brings to life Josef Mengele’s initial inspection in late 1944, the harsh conditions in the camp, and how the women hid their pregnancies. Their hellish experience ended after a 17-day train trip from Auschwitz to Mauthausen concentration camp. The babies—one born in Auschwitz, one born on the train, and one born at Mauthausen—miraculously survived. Holden traces their lives since.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson: From May 1940 through May 1941 Germany rained on Britain bombs obliterating parts of London and other cities. Using diaries, letters, and other documents, Larson puts together a compelling chronicle of that year. The book moves from Mary Churchill’s romantic crushes and teenage preoccupations to her father’s desperate (and sometimes ill-conceived) plans to deliver devastating blows to Germany. Larson chooses scenes that show the prime minister struggling to shake up the status quo and put Britain on a war footing. He contrasts moments of intense suffering with those of silly pleasure. In the process he shows how Churchill—by force of will, manipulation, and doggedness—convinced friends and countrymen to fight. The audiobook is excellent.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell begins with the death of Sandra Bland, a young woman whose failure to use a turn indicator landed her in a Texas jail, where she died by suicide. How did this episode go so wrong? Gladwell is a gifted storyteller and approaches his subject sideways. He tells stories about Cuban spies, Neville Chamberlain and Hitler, American student Amanda Knox, and pyramid-scheme swindler Bernie Madoff. Those wanting to know how better to talk to strangers may be disappointed because Gladwell doesn’t offer a simple answer. Instead he shows how our snap judgments about others are likely to be wrong. Caution: The expanded audiobook has some strong expletives.

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